The Procustean Bed (…or “one-size-fits-all”)

Recently there has been much talk about the need to question/challenge/change the current “factory model” of education.  I’ve personally mentioned Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theory of Scientific Management, Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA video and TED Talk, and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” on dozens of formal and informal occasions.  Most understand that “factory model” is synonymous with “one-size-fits-all”.

I recently came across a fresh (at least to me) story that illustrates the down side of “one-size fits-all”.  It goes like this…

Poseidon, Greek mythology’s God of the Sea, had a son named Procrustes.  Procrustes occupied a home along the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis where he offered hospitality to passing strangers.  He would invite them in for a night’s rest in his iron bed.  He bragged that his unique bed would be a perfect fit for anyone who slept upon it. What Procrustes didn’t tell his guests was that if they were too short for the bed he would stretch them on the rack (“Procrustes” means “the stretcher”) or, if they were too tall, he would use his sword to modify their leg length.

The story may be a tad gruesome, but it reminds me of how often our system works to modify students to fit our “iron bed” rather than make the required adjustments to the bed itself.  I hope that the great conversations, collaborations, and systemic change efforts that are taking place throughout our district and across the province continue and expand.  I have every faith that we can make the necessary adaptations to the “Procrustean Bed” that has been stifling student and teacher creativity for long enough.

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Damien Lewis’ other role…

Damien Lewis just won a Golden Globe Award for his role on the hit TV series “Homeland”.  He was also the main character in the mini-series “Band of Brothers”.

What you may not know is that Damien Lewis is also the voice of a teacher in one of the 21st Century Learning Initiative’s “Born to Learn” videos.  His character in the 4-minute animation talks about what it took to go from dropping out of high school to becoming a successful teacher.

Take a look…

(in fact, check out all of the videos in the series)


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That’s all I can think to say right now…

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The Progressive Paradigm…

I wrote the following post in 2008 when Barack Obama was first elected president.  I was reminded of it when he was re-elected last month.  

In 1948 a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians of the American League hugged a teammate in the lockeroom after a World Series Game.  Steve Gromek’s teammate had hit a game winning home run to give him the save.  He was happy and grateful.  Gromek’s career is best remembered not because of his pitching statistics but because of this hug.

His teammate was Larry Doby… the first African American player in the American League (Jackie Robinson was the first to play in the National League).  The picture above ran in papers across the country.  Both men received death threats and team officials took negative heat.  However, years later, when Doby was inducted into baseball’s hall of fame he said he would “always cherish that photograph and the memory of Gromek hugging me and me hugging him, because it proved that emotions can be put into a form not based on skin color.”

Pictures of players of mixed race hugging and celebrating goals, baskets and touchdowns are in the media on a daily basis now.  Last night, an African American man was elected president of the United States.  Some amazing changes have taken place since 1948.  The “progressive paradigm” is becoming more and more prevalent.

In 1948 most North American high school students went to school from 9:00 to 3:00 each day.  They started in September and ended in June.  They took eight courses per year. They moved from class to class when they heard a bell ring…

We have some amazing teachers doing some amazing things for many students within these traditional parameters.   Can we allow the “progressive paradigm” to become so prevalent that we challenge these age old “realities” and make learning relevant and life-long for even more kids?

Yes we can…

Yep…  so proud of the #sd60 teachers who are taking collaboration to new heights and challenging the status quo all at the same time!

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“Why TAG?” – Teacher Advisor Effectiveness…

The other day we were discussing counseling needs at our secondary schools and how the role of high school counselors has changed over time.  Just like everything else in public education, it is likely that the changes will continue to happen at an ever-increasing pace.

Interestingly, our counselor to student ratio is about the same as it was some 25 years ago… about 300:1.

The conversation reminded me of a paper I’d written as part of my Master’s thesis about twenty years ago… so I dug it out of a tattered old file folder.  The paper discusses a comparison between two junior high schools.  One had a “teacher advisory” program while the other simply had “homerooms”.  The paper discusses the importance of teacher advisors who did more than just take attendance and supervise silent reading.  They made an effort to get to know, and connect with, the students in their “TAG”.

Even though not every teacher advisor was entirely committed to the task, 46% of students in the TAG school reported that the first person they would talk to about concerns at school would be their advisor.  Only 9% of students in the other school said their homeroom teacher would be their first choice.

When counselor to student ratios are as high as they are, it helps to have other adults in a school who are recognized as front line supports for kids.

I’m happy to say that the “TAG” school referred to in my paper (although now a middle school) still has an advisory program.

The paper was published in the “Canadian School Executive” magazine in January 1993.  (The magazine is now defunct but I think it’s still worth a read!… even if you just scroll down to the graphs.)

Read – Why TAG?


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“No Time”

My 22 year old daughter gave me a book called “No Time” for my birthday a couple of months back.  She said, “It’s a good book, dad… but I know you won’t have (or make) time to read it.”  I took that as a bit of challenge and made it a priority.  It’s a great book for several reasons.  The author asks why it has become so much more important for us to “save” time than it is to “give” time.  Many of our kids are involved in many activities but do they really get much of our time?  How often have we said to a friend that we should “get together soon”… but never do?  Maybe it’s time to question what we’re doing with all of the time we’re saving.

In the words of the author, Heather Menzies, “we need to take back our lives, and renew the humanity of our social institutions.”

I first posted this in April, 2007.  I think it still applies.  My daughter is now 27 and even smarter than she was then!



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Stopping to think about it…

I was recently re-reading Alfie Kohn’s 2007 post about “Rethinking Homework.”   It was a line in the first paragraph that caught my attention.  He writes, “After spending most of the day in school, children are typically given additional assignments to be completed at home.  This is a rather curious fact when you stop to think about it, but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it. “

It’s the second sentence that resonates… “but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it.”  It reminds me of how many people believe that it was God who created the “8 x 5” secondary timetable, which, in my opinion, is the ultimate example of the tail wagging the dog.

My suggestion would be to find at least one colleague and plan some learning opportunities that aren’t based on subjects, bells or the “8 x 5” timetable.  Basically, in Kohn’s words… “stop to think about it.”

I love this “Challenging the Status Quo” image by David Truss.  His blog is great too.


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When the truck is stuck…

Changing the culture of a school or district is hard to do.  Pushing a half-ton truck out of a snow bank is hard too.

Teachers can work 24/7 behind closed doors to make a difference for the kids in their class but have little or no effect on school culture.  One person straining to free a stuck truck can pull every muscle in their body only to watch the tires spin.

I think we all know what happens to the truck when enough bodies lean into it.

This is the difference between “teachers working hard” and “teachers working hard together.”  The same goes for admin, trustees, parents…

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Advice from John Abbott…

John Abbott, president of the 21st Century Learning Initiative, just spent a very full 48 hours in our district.  He did four different presentations to staff, students, parents and community members.  He toured the Energetic Learning Campus and spent time talking with students there.  His message / stories were based on his own experiences as a teacher and headmaster in England, as well as the almost 30 years that he has spent traveling the world to speak about the need for systemic changes in education.  His presentations also referenced his  latest book called “Over Schooled But Under Educated.”

Just before I drove him to the airport, we asked him to give us feedback regarding our Achievement Contract.  In a way that only John can, he let us know that our goals, and the graphic we use to represent them, although impressive, are more than what should be on our first page.  He then said that based on our recent conversations “if you use a mixture of John Milton and Oscar Romero you can walk with no fear.”  He was referring to the following two quotes:

The first is from Milton’s “Of Education” written in 1644:  “I call a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously…” 

The second is from a prayer written by Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The prayer was allegedly found in his pocket after he was assassinated in 1980.  Following are the last three verses:

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Click here to read the whole prayer

I’m not sure yet whether or not we will use Milton’s quote or Romero’s prayer in our Achievement Contract.  However, I do believe that both are great reminders of what it is that we aspire to do, and of what it will require for us to “stay the course” as we attempt to do it.

(To see more of what John Abbott has been up to, please check the 21st Century Learning Initiative’s “Born to Learn” animations.)





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What we learn from our heroes…

One of my heroes passed away a few weeks ago. Gord Strate was a member of the Fort St. John Flyers back in the early 60’s when I first became a hockey fan.  He’d played for the Detroit Red Wings (with Gordie Howe) back in the days when there were only six teams in the NHL.  One of my cherished moments was being able to introduce Gord before he spoke to an assembly of young hockey players.  I told the audience how I remembered watching him carry the puck up the ice while blood ran down the side of his determined face. Even more than being a great hockey player though, Gord was a gentleman.

Many “Flyers” from those days were, and still are, heroes to me.  I won’t list them all (for fear of missing any) but I need to mention a couple.

One is Andre Larmand, who played on the “Kid Line” and wore number 11.  Andre handed his stick over the boards to me just after the Flyers won yet another South Peace Hockey League Championship.  I was proud to wear number 11 when I played for the Flyers a few years later.

Rod Fonteyne was the playing coach and one of the reasons that the Flyers organization became so strong.  Rod was my grandfather’s favourite player.  A few years ago Rod dropped by the school where I was principal with a number 11 Flyers jersey and asked me if I would like to have it.  I couldn’t help but think of my Grampa and what he would have thought of Rod actually coming to visit me… let alone giving me a jersey.  The Flyers were bigger than the Maple Leafs or Canadiens to him.

And then there is Jimmy Anderson.  He is who I wanted to be during every shinny game I took part in.  Jimmy was a goal scorer and the fastest skater.  To me he was a hero in the movie cowboy sense.  Quiet and cool.  I remember how excited I was when I got to sit in his “stall” in the Flyers dressing room as a Peewee (all of his equipment was still hanging there… we didn’t have to be told that we shouldn’t touch it!).  Years later, Jim’s wife Audrey was my secretary at Alwin Holland Elementary School so I had several chances to reminisce with (and probably embarrass) Jimmy.  Again, my Grampa would have been so impressed!

As I think about these gentlemen and how much they meant to me, and to this community, I find it even sadder that our game is currently “locked out”.  Hopefully it will give us all pause to think about the guys (players and management) who committed to the game when money wasn’t a factor.  Much can be learned from them about commitment, community and team work.

A few years ago Jim Hughson, of Hockey Night in Canada fame (but more importantly a homegrown Fort St. John boy!), produced a 3-minute video segment for “Hockey Day in Canada”.  The theme was “rivalries”.  Wow… the memories it brings back! Click here to watch it!

Jimmy Anderson… feet in the air, stick on the ice!



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